Shedding light on awe-inspiring sun
Published 23/04/2010 | 05:00
Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has provided an astonishing new vista on our turbulent star, the sun.
The first public release of images from the satellite record huge explosions and great looping prominences of gas.
The observatory is expected to help scientists get a better understanding of what drives solar activity.
Launched in February, SDO is expected to operate for at least five years.
Researchers hope it will go a long way towards their goal of being able to forecast the effects of the sun's behaviour on Earth.
Solar activity has a profound influence on our planet. Huge eruptions and the emission of intense radiation can disrupt satellite, communication and power systems, and pose a serious health risk to astronauts.
Scientists who worked on SDO said they were thrilled with the quality of the data.
"When we see these fantastic images, even hardcore solar physicists like myself are struck with awe, literally," said Lika Guhathakurta, the SDO programme scientist at Nasa headquarters.
SDO is equipped with three instruments to investigate the physics at work inside, on the surface and in the atmosphere of the sun.
The probe views the entire solar disc with a resolution 10 times better than the average high-definition television camera.
A key quest will be to probe the deep network of plasma currents that generate the sun's tangled and sometimes explosive magnetic field.
It is the dynamo that ultimately lies behind all forms of solar activity.